After the recent announcement of the Church of England Synod's decision to approve the appointment of women bishops, I couldn't help but say to myself, "Keep calm and hurry up already!" This especially in light of our celebration in the Episcopal Church of the 40th anniversary of the ordination of women to the priesthood on July 29, 1974 in Philadelphia. One of the Philadelphia Eleven, as they are known, the Rev. Merrill Bittner, served in the Diocese of Rochester from 1973 to 1976, including as an associate at Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd in Webster, New York.
My sense is that most of the fights we have in our body politic -- be it church or society -- are related to our comfort or discomfort with inclusion. Who is in and who is out is at the root of most of our disagreements; much of our resistance to inclusion is guided by a mindset of scarcity, the attitude that there isn't enough for everybody. In the face of those fears, some clench their fists while others open their arms to embrace change.
We see this in battles for inclusion over the last two centuries, including the abolition of slavery, signified by movement toward emancipation through civil war and the engagement of Abolitionists like Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony. Then there was the Suffrage Movement that signified the inclusion of women as full citizens with franchise. The modern Civil Rights Movement followed this in the 1960s, also signified by the right to vote. Most recently, we have battled over affording lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons the same civil rights as others.
While we have a long way to go in terms of full inclusion, we have made significant progress.
In Rochester, many landmark events converge with our personal experiences, calling us to soul-searching reflection. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act that opened a legitimate door of inclusion to all persons of color to pursue their dreams. July 24th was the 50th anniversary of the infamous race riots of Rochester. We have a history to learn from and a future to pursue with a certain degree of self-responsibility.
The Episcopal Church bears a few significant scars from this embattled history, especially in its struggle to invite persons of color, women and persons with different gender orientations into ordained ministry. These doors of hospitality, which were opened through struggle and controversy, have enabled a whole new demographic of gifted persons to participate fully in governance and worship.
All this practice with fighting over issues of inclusion brings me to consider one of the seminal areas of inclusion in the church: the inclusion of all the Baptized as equal and full citizens of the Church. Every inclusion struggle has involved overcoming and overthrowing barriers.
Distinctive rood screens have ended up being counterproductive to the formation of learning servant communities by reifying empire-like imagination in the guise of order. There are psychological and emotional ties that justify maintaining these barriers. For instance, white males in general had a stake in preserving barriers that kept women and persons of color in certain ecclesial spaces and away from other spaces that were more valued.
Some of the threat from the inclusion of laity in the common life of the church is felt by those who have the most to give up. A traditional understanding of serving as a priest in the church is about being the one who controls everything with a "Father knows best" attitude. With the inclusion of all the Baptized in a more-than-symbolic functioning of a church, the priest and those lay people closest to the priest can perceive a reduction in their power and hence control. Ironically, this is also the very reasoning that is most liberating for some priests and lay leaders who don't seek to control everything.
More doors wait to be opened. Recent opposition to immigrant children possibly making Rochester, NY their surrogate home is yet another expression of the fear of inclusion. That fear seems to come down to a perceived need for control, which impedes generous hospitality. Inclusion helps us address the spiritual/psychological issue of letting go during change. Our comfort with inclusion can help us calm down and emit more light than heat. As the popular tune from Disney's Frozen suggests, I hope we can each be calm enough in our soul and comfortable enough in our skin to welcome the stranger among us and "let it go." Eventually we all do!